How To Write a Cover Letter for a Research Paper
The cover letter written to accompany a research paper when it is submitted for publication in a scientific or academic journal offers an unparalleled opportunity to persuade a busy editor that the manuscript merits serious consideration, fits the journal’s publishing agenda and is worthy of peer review. Accordingly, cover letters are notoriously difficult to write well, and many concerns and priorities must be juggled to achieve a professional and effective letter.
It is always wise to begin by consulting the journal’s guidelines for authors. Any instructions relevant to cover letters and their content should be followed with precision. You may be asked to state that the research is original, that it complies with the journal’s ethical standards, that all authors have approved the manuscript, that there are no conflicts of interest and that every trace of authorial identity has been removed from the manuscript in preparation for blind review. It is also common to confirm that the paper has not been submitted or published elsewhere. If part of the research has already been presented or published, explain this carefully, highlighting what is new in the manuscript you are submitting. Even if information of this kind is not requested in a cover letter, it is usually helpful to provide it.
Information about potential reviewers for your paper can be a little trickier. If your field of study is extremely small or highly specialised, such a list might prove particularly helpful for the editor, but it is generally best to mention experts by name only if the journal requests this either in its guidelines or via personal contact. If you are providing a list of possible reviewers, be sure to make your decisions on ethical intellectual grounds and not to include anyone for whom there may be a conflict of interest –a co-author, for instance, or close colleague would be inappropriate. Avoiding specific names while describing with precision the type of knowledge and expertise required to assess your research adequately can be a diplomatic alternative.
Your cover letter should certainly describe your manuscript and publishing intentions clearly. Open with the fact that you are submitting your research paper for publication in the journal, and be sure to provide the titles of both your paper and the journal. Then you can briefly describe your topic and its background, your research questions and methods, and your findings and conclusions as well as the gaps they fill in current knowledge or the practices they may affect. The primary goal is to convince the editor that your research is necessary, your findings important and your paper of interest to readers of the journal who will ultimately cite your work. Since a cover letter should be fairly short (a single traditional page is ideal), you will need to be selective as well as concise and choose information that successfully highlights the unique strengths and significance of your research. A sincere and objective assessment of your work and its meaning will be more effective than unsubstantiated exaggeration and grandiose claims.
Thinking from the perspective of the journal editor can be most helpful. Widen your view beyond imagining what publication in the journal will mean to you and your career by recognising that the relationship between author and publisher is a symbiotic one. Try to focus on how your paper fits the journal’s aims and scope. Why did you decide to send your writing to that particular journal? How does your work relate to articles it has already published, especially in recent months and years? Why would your research be of interest to the journal’s readers? How might they make use of your methods, results and conclusions? Familiarising yourself with the journal, its publications, its aims and its scope will help you prioritise and phrase key descriptions of your work.
Ensure that you write your cover letter with extreme care and then proofread, edit and revise your prose until it is polished to perfection. It is essential that you communicate with the utmost clarity and that your letter promises the editor an equally well-written paper, so errors in language, awkward wording and logical ambiguities must be avoided at all cost. Jargon should also be avoided, and elements such as discipline-specific terminology and unusual abbreviations and acronyms are best if used sparingly and carefully defined, keeping in mind that the journal editor may not share your specialisation. The format of a traditional business letter will enable a tidy presentation of the current date, your name, title and contact information as well as the name, title and contact information of the editor. Be sure to use a proper salutation such as ‘Dear Dr Smith,’ to maintain a polite professionalism throughout your letter and to express gratitude for the editor’s consideration before formally signing off.
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APA Paper Formatting & Style Guidelines
Your teacher may want you to format your paper using APA guidelines. If you were told to create your citations in APA format, your paper should be formatted using the APA guidelines as well.
- Use white 8 ½ x 11” paper.
- Make 1 inch margins on the top, bottom, and sides
- The first word in every paragraph should be indented one half inch.
- APA recommends using Times New Roman font, size 12.
- Double space the entire research paper
- Include a page header known as the “running head” at the top of every page. (To make this process easier, set your word processor to automatically add these components onto each page)
- To create the running head/page header, insert page numbers justified to the right-hand side of the paper (do not put p. or pg. in front of page numbers)
- Then type “TITLE OF YOUR PAPER” justified to the left using all capital letters
- If your title is long, this running head title should be a shortened version of the title of your entire paper
Sample running head/page header
APA Paper Components
Your essay should include these four major sections:
- Title Page
- Main Body
This page should contain four pieces: the title of the paper, running head, the author’s name, institutional affiliation, and an author’s note. Create the page header/running head as described above.
*Please note that only on the title page, your page header/running head should include the words “Running Head” before your title in all capitals. The rest of the pages should not include this in the page header. It should look like this on the title page:
- The title of the paper should capture the main idea of the essay but should not contain abbreviations or words that serve no purpose
- It should be centered on the page and typed in 12-point Times New Roman font. Do not underline, bold, or italicize the title.
- Your title may take up one or two lines, but should not be more than 12 words in length.
- All text on the title page should be double-spaced in the same way as the rest of your essay
- Do not include any titles on the author’s name such as Dr. or Ms.
- The institutional affiliation is the location where the author conducted the research
Sample Title page:
On the following page, begin with the Running title.
- On the first line of the page, center the word “Abstract” (but do not include quotation marks).
- On the following line, write a summary of the key points of your research. Your abstract summary is a way to introduce readers to your research topic, the questions that will be answered, the process you took, and any findings or conclusions you drew.
- This summary should not be indented, but should be double-spaced and less than 250 words.
- If applicable, help researchers find your work in databases by listing keywords from your paper after your summary. To do this, indent and type Keywords: in italics. Then list your keywords that stand out in your research.
Sample Abstract page:
On the following page, begin with the Body of the paper.
- Start with the Running title
- On the next line write the title (do not bold, underline, or italicize the title)
- Begin with the introduction. Indent.
- The introduction presents the problem and premise upon which the research was based. It goes into more detail about this problem than the abstract.
- Begin a new section with the Method. Bold and center this subtitle The Method section shows how the study was run and conducted. Be sure to describe the methods through which data was collected.
- Begin a new section with the Results. Bold and center this subtitle. The Results section summarizes the data. Use graphs and graphs to display this data.
- Begin a new section with the Discussion. Bold and center this subtitle. This Discussion section is a chance to analyze and interpret your results.
- Draw conclusions and support how your data led to these conclusions.
- Discuss whether or not your hypothesis was confirmed or not supported by your results.
- Determine the limitations of the study and next steps to improve research for future studies.
** Throughout the body, in-text citations are used and include the author’s/authors’ name(s) and the publication year. In APA format page numbers are not used in in-text citations.
Ex: (Wilkonson, 2009).
For more information about how to cite properly please see EasyBib’s guides for APA citations based on the sources you are using.
Sample Body page:
On a new page, write your references.
- Begin with a running title
- Center and bold the title “References” (do not include quotation marks, underline, or italicize this title)
- Alphabetize and Double-space all entries
- Every article/source mentioned in the paper and used in your study should be referenced and have an entry.
Sample Reference Page: